Backfire Black Friday Showing a Record Year for Returns – How Does This Impact the Environment?

This year’s Black Friday has defied expectations that consumer spending would be down compared to last year, despite factors such as inflation skyrocketing, energy bills soaring and the uncertainty around mortgage rates. In spite of experts’ forecasts, we have seen the number of Brits who planned to shop in the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales increase by 6% from last year, rising from 33% in 2021 to 39% in 2022. Barclaycard Payments, which processes £1 in every £3 spent on UK cards, said their transactions rose 3.59% year on year, while Americans spent a staggering $9.12 billion just on Friday alone which has exceeded expectations and produced a 2.3% growth rate last year. Furthermore, leading e-commerce platform Shopify have stated that they had an unbeaten Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend, with sales of $7.5 billion worldwide, which is a 19% increase in sales compared to last year.

However, online retailers have been subjected to a backfire Black Friday which shows returns this month up more than a quarter year-on-year. Retail returns firm ReBound stated that “the soaring cost of living was partly to blame for a 26.6% jump in items sent back in November, compared with the same period a year earlier. The additional returns came in the last three days of November – suggesting overeager shoppers almost immediately sent Black Friday purchases back”. Laura Garrett returns expert at ReBound stated “A snapshot from Cyber Monday shows returns were already 8.4% higher by lunchtime than in 2021. In fact, returns across November are already significantly higher than last year. If we look at the data, we actually hit 2021 total returns for the entirety of November by Black Friday itself”. The spike in returns is stemming from consumers second-guessing themselves with their purchases and deciding to send back goods as uncertainty around the economy is taking its toll on worried shoppers. From the data, we can see that in the UK, Sunday had the heaviest returns impact showing an increase of 24% compared to Sunday last year, while Germany was one of the largest returning countries in Europe, resulting in an 88% increase in returns year on year. We have seen that retailers have been rolling out discounts over the month with the hopes of escaping an inventory catastrophe after making substantial improvements to their supply chain infrastructure following disruptions last year with the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the magnitude of returns following Black Friday has created even more duress for retailers as they prepare for the busy Christmas period. It is evident that the cost-of-living crisis is leaving its mark as buyers are having second thoughts about their purchasing decisions, which is a trend that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

So, what does all this mean for the environment? Well, the increase in online shopping also means an increase in courier deliveries, which means a higher carbon footprint. “A 2021 report found that courier deliveries from the Black Friday sales were estimated to release about 0.12% of the UK’s total annual emissions”. Phil Purnell, professor of Materials and Structures with the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Leeds stated, “Black Friday is an extremely worrying trend… [as] the consumption of all of that material has an enormous environmental impact, not just in terms of the pollution that’s created during mining and the depletion of natural resources to create the things you buy, but also in terms of carbon from transportation”. Purnell went on to explain that “Our research shows 400,000 tons of CO2 will be admitted into the atmosphere as a result of transport for Black Friday in the UK this year alone”.

Throughout the entire year, but especially around the holiday season, shoppers are bombarded with enticing offers such as free shipping, next-day delivery, and free returns which all contribute to the growing problem that the global transport sector causes for the environment. The manufacturing and transportation industry are notorious for their consumption of fossil fuels which account for a huge proportion of the world’s yearly greenhouse gas outflow. Additionally, Green Alliance has stated that 80% of goods acquired during Black Friday end up being thrown away into landfill.

However, not all companies are entertaining the Black Friday trend, many of these companies are taking a stand to support the environment. The popular furniture company Ikea has created a campaign #buybackfriday which encourages their customers to sell their unwanted products back to the store in a quest to call attention to their sustainability objectives. The footwear brand AllBirds has decided to increase their sustainable footwear by £1 which is then donated to a climate organisation. Finally, the clothing brand Monki also does not participate in Black Friday in a bid to take a stand against fast fashion, which has an enormous impact on the environment.

Eliot Thomas

Graduate Digital Marketing Executive